On June 23, 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU) after years of deliberations predominantly characterized by euro-skepticism in the public domain.
Prime Minister, David Cameron had not only called for a referendum on the issue, but, had gone as far as to put his premiership on the line and gambled for a Remain victory. Like his predecessors who were unable to answer the European question, he lost, leaving a country that needed a leader who would be able to strike a deal with the European bloc and initiate Brexit as swiftly as possible.
Then, entered Theresa May; an experienced politician who has served in cabinet since 2010. Mrs. May had campaigned for the United Kingdom to remain in the E.U, yet, she sought party leadership upon Cameron’s resignation.
Her goal was as straightforward as it was challenging – make a deal with her European counterparts who would be likable to Britons and acceptable to her opposite numbers, a deal which, was to be unnegotiable from scratch.
Shortly after the referendum result was announced, Brexiteers – people who had campaigned for the country to leave the bloc, became sharply divided on what kind of exit plan they wanted.
There was the concept of ‘Soft Brexit’ where while the country has left the Union, it would still be part of certain entities including customs and free market, and it would relax restrictions on EU nationals as it was before Brexit. Hardliners on the other hand held the view that Britain be absent in European entities and dealings in every means possible.
One way or the other, Mrs. May’s deal would either be interpreted as a soft exit or a hard one.
Hurdles in talks and public discourses had seen the Prime Minister reluctantly call for a general election few months after the referendum; an election which meant whether or not citizens wanted her and the Conservative Party to negotiate a deal – a Brexit deal.
Her party lost her commanding majority in the house but managed to hold successful talks with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to secure a coalition government, hence, May was ready to negotiate with the rest of Europe.
Given the vagueness of the idea of Britain’s exit, there was the need to have a deal. In that deal, there should be specifics on certain key issues including immigration, customs, the common market and the Northern Ireland arrangement.
In a 585 page document, the Prime Minister’s agreement covers the following
- Britain’s financial settlement with the EU to meet agreed commitments
- An arrangement to avoid a hard border on the Northern Ireland Border
- Rights of EU Nationals living in the UK and Britons living within the European Bloc after Brexit
The challenge has been with the Irish border which would in effect become the border between Britain and the EU. There is the support against strong borders on both sides given the historic conflicts the Irish have been involved in.
The Prime Minister has also assured that the country will withdraw from the free market and the Customs Union in order to negotiate its own deals with countries around the world, a move which is certain to bring strong borders into the fold.
That said, May’s agreement means that the country would be unable to leave both the customs union and the free market thereby making Brexit very soft according to critics.
The deal, critics say makes prospects of making trade deals across the world very slim because Britain is still bound by EU rules and regulation.
British MPs are very uncomfortable with the huge divorce bill due the UK which stands at about 39bn pounds. There is the thought that Britain is under no obligation to pay divorce bills to the EU. A thought shared by majority of Britons.
Most members of the House of Commons have argued that the future political framework deal is not binding unlike the withdrawal agreement and therefore the EU could not be held to its commitments to the arrangement.
There are other key fields which the deal covers but here is the reality – no matter how long her withdrawal document looks or how abled she has been in defending her plan, her people, and, as a matter of fact, parliament do not like it.
They are of the opinion that it hurts Britain’s future economic prospects, makes the country an economic pawn to the EU and dents Britain’s image on the global stage.
This is why her deal can never get through the House.
What is the way forward if her deal does not make it through parliament? May has two viable options; table the deal before the people in a general election, or, head to Brussels for further renegotiation.
If there is no agreement between the two before the 29th of March, then there will be the ‘No Deal’ reality which, most economists and observers have said will be disastrous for the UK. But the devil is in the details of Theresa May’s led Government suffering a huge defeat by a margin of 230, with 432 PMs voting against May’s proposal with 202 voting for.
The Prime Minister’s leadership could be challenged, but, this might change little. It’s a deal people want not a personality.
Whatever happens in the coming days, Brexit is not going anywhere anytime soon.
GCBM Contributor: Mitchell Amoamah